Example 3: Challenging police raids and criminalization of drug use in Hungary through “civil obedience”

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization 

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Budapest, Hungary
E-mail:  tasz@tasz.hu
Website:  http://tasz.hu/en
Drug Policy Website: www.drogriporter.hu                                                                                             Drug Policy Website English:  http://drogriporter.hu/en 

The Hempseed Association (Kendermag Egyesület)
Website:  http://www.kendermag.hu/ (Hungarian only)                                                                           The Hempseed Association is a Hungarian drug reform activist group. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union is Hungary’s leading drug policy NGO.

The Problem

In Hungary, police regularly raided discos and forced young club-goers to undergo urine tests. This violated privacy rights and rules of criminal procedure, and potentially forced discos underground, making it more difficult to conduct harm reduction outreach with club-goers.

Actions Taken

The Hempseed Association and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union challenged the police practice of raiding discos and conducting forced urine tests in order to catch people using drugs. Led by the Hempseed Association and with legal advice and representation from the HCLU, individuals reported to the National Police Headquarters in Budapest in the spring of 2005 to confess their non-violent drug use. The aim of this “Civil Obedience Movement” was to challenge the practice of forced urine tests and to raise the issue of decriminalization of drug use.

Every Wednesday for five weeks, “self-reporters” including celebrities appeared at police headquarters. The HCLU provided each self-reporter with a legal manual. More than 60 people self-reported in total.

The action attracted significant media attention and dominated public debate for weeks. Activists expressed their views to the media about the illegal practice of police raids and about decriminalization.

HCLU made freedom-of-information requests to the police about the cost of police raids, and used the data to show the raids were not cost-effective.

Results and Lessons Learned

The action succeeded in its main goal, which was to obtain a statement from the police that urine tests could only be conducted on someone following initiation of a criminal procedure against them. This effectively made urine test raids unlawful. The number of police raids seriously decreased, with very few raids occurring in 2006.

The campaign also succeeded in making decriminalization of drug use a subject of mainstream debate. More than 70 professionals working on the drug field signed a petition supporting the aims of the campaign. Three months after the action, the first-ever draft bill on decriminalization was introduced in parliament.

The campaign showed that good stories and human faces are an important and successful way of achieving media coverage of drug policy campaigns.